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Banerjee, Sudeshna (1997) The transformation of domesticity as an ideology: Calcutta, 1880-1947. PhD thesis. SOAS University of London. DOI:

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This study of the ideology of domesticity among the Bengali Hindu middle-class of Calcutta between 1880 and 1947 problematises the relation between anti-colonial nationalism and domesticity by contextualising it in a social history perspective. The thesis argues that the nationalist domestic ideology of the class was not a mere counter-discursive derivative of colonial power/knowledge. Its development was a dialectical process; in it the agency of the live experience of domesticity, as the primary level of this group's reproduction of its class identity, material anxieties, status, and gender ideology, interacted with nationalist counter- discursive abstractions. This dialectic, the thesis argues, made the domestic ideology of the colonial middle class a transforming entity. Indeed, because of this dynamism, early nationalist essentialisations regarding domesticity disintegrated during the late colonial period (1920-1947). Anti-colonial nationalism, crystallised by the late 19th century, spiritualised domesticity as a part of an essential 'inner-domain' that was upheld in order to culturally exteriorise the 'materialist' colonial sphere. But this interiorisation and spiritualisation was not a one-way process in which lived domesticity was passively inscribed from above by a preconceived nation. While nationalist abstractions sought to 'recast' the home, the lived domesticity of the class, in its turn, inscribed its agency on nationalism by acting as the fundamental lived unit which was paradigmatically extended to imagine and order the middle- class-led nation. Given this dialectic, there was the possibility of the nationalist idealisation of the home changing if the lived situation of the class became substantially transformed. Contesting the ahistoricity of recent studies on nationalist domesticity, this thesis argues that such a transformation actually did come about in the period after the First World War. Under its impact, the dominant perception of domesticity changed, creating a discursive transformation that sidelined the ideology formulated in the late 19th-century. The spiritualist rhetoric disintegrated. So did the binary division that had projected the colonial sphere as the only 'outside' as against a harmonious 'inside' in which domesticity, community and the nation existed in an idealised continuum. Thus, a domestic ideology, that anti-colonial consciousness had deeply integrated with the class's self-justification and claim to 'natural leadership', disintegrated largely under pressure. Consequently, it left behind the deep imprint of some of its expectations in the middle-class consciousness. The disintegration thus generated a sense of disorientation rather than a liberating feeling for the middle-class majority on the eve of political independence.

Item Type: Theses (PhD)
SOAS Departments & Centres: SOAS Research Theses > Proquest
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 16 Oct 2018 15:02

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